Friday, September 28, 2007

The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush (Genre: Folk Literature)

Bibliographic Data
Author: Tomie dePaola
Illustrator: Tomie dePaola
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: April 16, 1996
ISBN: 978-0698113602

Plot Summary
A young boy, Little Gopher, is encouraged in his art to paint after he receives a vision through a dream. This tale tells how the sunset is created through the art of this boy, later a man, using a white buckskin canvas and the various flowers (Indian paintbrush) available in his area, which he had not previously been able to achieve. The story tells how Indian paintbrush came to grow in the southwestern United States.

Critical Analysis
The illustrations in this story truly capture and express the spirit of the tale. My children have sat on my lap and at my knee listening to the tale of Little Gopher since infancy. The story is also engaging. It tells of an unathletic boy who will achieve his own fame through the arts.

The character of Little Gopher is flawed, and many children will connect with Little Gopher’s inability to excel in athletics or in a specific area. Demonstrating his human frailties allows children to see that everyone has his or her own unique talents.

Additionally the southwestern United States’ setting may help students to tie into their own geographic awareness.

Review Excerpts
From Publishers Weekly
In this companion to The Legend of the Bluebonnet, Little Gopher is smaller than the rest of the children in his tribe and can't keep up with those who ride, run, wrestle or shoot with bows and arrows. But, he has a talent of his own: he is an artist. When he grows older, a Dream-Vision comes to him: a young Indian maiden and her grandfather tell him that he will paint pictures of the great warriors with colors as pure as the evening sky. Little Gopher's paintings never satisfy him because the colors are dull and dark, but he keeps trying. In the night, a voice tells him how to find paint-filled brushes; Little Gopher locates them, and they become brilliantly colored flowers known as Indian Paintbrush. This tale is related with deceptive simplicity by dePaola; he enhances the plainness of the story with his primitive illustrations, and, like Little Gopher, he finds inspiration in the colors of the sunset. Ages 2-7.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

  • Use for lesson on explanation myths of how things have come to be.
  • Use in an art lesson to tie in to color blending.
  • Use for inspiration to those students who lack a skill to demonstrate that each person finds his or her talents.

And the Green Grass Grew All Around (Genre: Folk Literature)

Bibliographic Data
Author: collected by Alvin Schwartz
Illustrator: Sue Truesdell
Publisher: Harpercollins Childrens Books
Publication Date: March 1992
ISBN: 978-0060227579

Plot Summary
This is a collection of folk poetry and rhymes. It includes various children’s songs such as The Green Grass Grew All Around and On Top of Spaghetti among others but also includes the children’s variants of famous songs such as Battle Hymn of the Republic “Mine eyes have seen the glory/Of the closing of the school” which makes an appearance yearly on the last day of classes.

Critical Analysis
This book enraptured all of my children (preschool, first and second grade.) They laughed and hooted at the different parody songs, and they sang along with the more traditional folk poetry and lyrics.

This text is a wonderful resource for educators to pull traditional folk literature. It is also a great book to use to inject some humor into the classroom when things are getting stressful or too serious.

The notes are very helpful for poetry study and could be used not only for primary information but also for springboards for in depth author or poet studies. I particularly liked the source section that traces historical information and helps readers to understand the roots of the poem or lyrics.

Review Excerpts
From School Library Journal
Grade 3 Up - A marvelous book that is sure to become a classic if children have any say in the matter. Schwartz has gathered sassy, funny, scary, and slightly naughty children's folk poetry heard on schoolgrounds and wherever else kids are having fun. Adults who stew over the appropriateness of Roald Dahl's books or Shel Silverstein's poetry may have concerns here, but kids will love having all their underground playground rhymes in one volume. Scores are included for ``On Top of Spaghetti,'' ``Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory/ Of the Closing of the School,'' and other songs. It's hard to imagine illustrations better suited to the book's silly, energized tone than Truesdell's big-eyed, animated, and humorous characters. Given plenty of white space, they tumble, goof, and guffaw across the pages, in ideal tandem with the poetry. These drawings may be in black and white, but readers will never pick up a more colorful book. Of additional interest to many people, adults in particular, are the ``Notes'' in the back on folk poets and poetry; ``Sources'' that trace the selections' origins are also helpful. Read this outrageous volume before it is shelved; once the kids discover it, it will always be checked out. --Lee Bock, Brown County Pub . Lib . , Green Bay, WI
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews
Not since Carl Withers's A Rocket in My Pocket (1948) has there been such a grand compilation of familiar (and unfamiliar) rhymes and chants from the children's own tradition: riddles, games, wishes and taunts; poems about love, food, school, or animals; parodies, nonsense, and stories. Schwartz organizes them by topic and/or form and provides all kinds of fascinating supporting material: an engagingly conversational introduction; general explanatory notes plus full item-by-item sources, many of which are intriguing in themselves (``Avik Roy, age 13, Detroit...1986''; ``Editor's recollection, Ten Mile River Boy Scout Camp...1940''), or which give alternate versions; even an occasional tune. In b&w pen and watercolor, Truesdell's marvelous characters dance across the generously broad pages, peering inquisitively at the hilarious goings-on or gleefully joining in the shenanigans. It's hard to imagine a child who wouldn't greet this treasure trove with enthusiasm. Extensive bibliography (items ``of interest to young people'' are starred); index. (Folklore. 4+) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

  • Use as a resource for traditional children’s folk songs.
  • Use for poetry study resource.
  • Use as resource for tracing lyrical history and folk poetry history.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Bibliographic Data
Author: Christine Tagg
Illustrator: David Ellwand
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: 2003
ISBN: 0-7636-2328-8

Plot Summary

This book is a Cinderella variant featuring beautiful photographs of flowers as the various characters in the tale. The book features Cinderlily (Cinderella), two sisters (the stepsisters), a fairy godmother, and the Sultan (the prince). Cinderlily and the Sultan meet at a ball and dance. Cinderlily loses one of her petals when she leaves as the clock strikes midnight. The Sultan seeks the one maiden whom the petal fits and the two live happily ever after.

Critical Analysis

This Cinderella variant includes some interesting features. First, the book is written in three acts so it lends itself well to comparison with drama and dramatic elements. Second the photographs which compose the illustrations are beautiful in both their simplicity and their clarity. Third, the scientific naming of the flowers at the end of the text open the investigation toward various science lessons including classification, botany, and horticulture.

This Cinderella variant is missing the prototypical “evil” stepmother and the stepsisters are simply replaced by two sisters. However this text features many of the characteristics of the Cinderella tale including the prince, the ball, and the lost item; in this text the prince is a Sultan and the lost item is a petal rather than a slipper.

My biggest complaint is that the text is very difficult to read. The backgrounds are frequently black and the font type is more cursive style than serif or non-serif. Also the type font is small. It would be a difficult book for a younger reader to read simply due to the type font but it makes a good read aloud. Also, although I found the illustrations to be enchanting, I don’t think they would hold the attention of a younger child.

Review Excerpts

From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 3-In this visually intriguing twist on the traditional tale, Ellwand has replaced the human protagonists with flowers. Using Adobe Photoshop, he has arranged lilies, pansies, tulips, roses, and other petals in graceful poses against stark black backgrounds. While the pictures are technically well executed, it is unlikely they will engender other than a passing interest in children. Tagg's text, written in reasonably well-rhymed couplets, is thin on plot, character development, and imagery. In addition, the alterations she makes in the original tale are incongruous. The prince has become a Sultan, but nonetheless the "band strikes up a waltz" at his Royal Autumn Ball. The fonts, which change frequently in an apparent attempt to match the action of the story, are often hard to read, particularly when placed against those black backgrounds. For a more effective use of natural objects as characters, stay with Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffer's How Are You Peeling? Foods with Moods (Scholastic, 1999). Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights


Tie into lesson on botany or horticulture.

Introduce scientific classification.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type (Genre: Picture Books)

Bibliographic Data
Author: Doreen Cronin
Illustrator: Betsy Lewin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Publication Date: February 2000
ISBN: 9780689832130

Plot Summary
Farmer Brown throws out his typewriter only to hear “click, clack, moo” all day long as his cows and other farm animals begin to make outrageous demands in exchange for their services.

Critical Analysis
This book cracks me up every time I read it. My children have it on their shelf and in animated form courtesy of Scholastic videos DVD collection. The illustrations really bring the farm animals to life and make it seem possible that cows could type on a typewriter. This book is the first in a long series of books involving the same mischievous farm animals and the easy foiled and frustrated Farmer Brown.

Review Excerpts
Children's Literature
"Cows that type? Impossible!" That's what Farmer Brown thinks when he first hears the "click, clack" from the barn, but then he reads the note the cows write him. All they want is electric blankets for the cold barn. When he refuses, they go on strike. What's worse for the farmer is that the strike spreads to the cold hens as well. Duck finally negotiates a compromise. Unfortunately for Farmer Brown, the ducks have learned from all this, leaving us with a smile at the ending. This broadly humorous nonsense finds an appropriately bold, almost slapdash visual counterpart in Lewin's illustrations. Thick, brushed black lines define the characters and farm environment, while washes of color help emphasize gestures and evoke emotions, as when the red door symbolizes the farmer's rage. Great slapstick also suggests thoughts on animal rights.

Esmé Raji Codell - Bookbag Magazine
This hilarious story with a surprise ending is a great tribute to fair play and introduces the power of communication in a way that even the youngest listener will enjoy.

From Publishers Weekly
Plucky barnyard denizens unite to improve their working conditions in this hilarious debut picture book from Cronin (appropriately enough, an attorney). Farmer Brown is dumbfounded when his cows discover an old typewriter in the barn and begin experimenting ("All day long he hears click, clack, moo. Click, clack, moo. Clickety clack moo"). Things really get out of hand when the cows began airing their grievances. Lewin (Araminta's Paint Box) conveys the fellow's shock as he reads: "Dear Farmer Brown, The barn is very cold at night. We'd like some electric blankets. Sincerely, The Cows." When Farmer Brown denies the cows' request, the bovine organizers go on strike. Through the use of the man's shadow, Lewin communicates his rage: the straw in his hat creates the appearance of his hair on end. With help from a neutral duck mediator, the exasperated Farmer Brown finally makes concessions. But, much to his dismay, the cows are not the only creatures that can type. Cronin humorously turns the tables on conventional barnyard dynamics; Lewin's bold, loose-lined watercolors set a light and easygoing mood that matches Farmer Brown's very funny predicament. Kids and underdogs everywhere will cheer for the clever critters that calmly and politely stand up for their rights, while their human caretaker becomes more and more unglued. Ages 3-7. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Use this book to begin a unit on letter writing and communication to improve conditions or to protest events. This ties in well with a civics lesson in citizenship and the right to peaceably assemble in social studies.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (Genre: Picture Book)

Bibliographic Data


Author: Simms Taback

Illustrator: Simms Taback

Publisher: Viking Juvenile

Publication Date: October 1999

ISBN: 978-0670878550

Plot Summary
Joseph, a farmer, has a coat made of his favorite cloth. As it begins to wear, Joseph recreates his favorite cloth into a new article of clothing, with each successive article smaller than the last.

Critical Analysis
This is a wonderful picture book. It has all of the elements which make it a Caldecott Award book: vivid and descriptive illustrations beautifully done. What makes this an interesting text are the cut-outs on each section that grow smaller and smaller as the piece of cloth grows smaller and smaller. Children can visualize the cloth shrinking with wear. Because the story was adapted from folk songs, it captures and holds the attention and its repetition engages children of all ages.

Review Excerpts
From Publishers Weekly
As in his Caldecott Honor book, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, Taback's inventive use of die-cut pages shows off his signature artwork, here newly created for his 1977 adaptation of a Yiddish folk song. This diverting, sequential story unravels as swiftly as the threads of Joseph's well-loved, patch-covered plaid coat. A flip of the page allows children to peek through to subsequent spreads as Joseph's tailoring produces items of decreasing size. The author puts a droll spin on his narrative when Joseph loses the last remnant of the coat - a button and decides to make a book about it. "Which shows... you can always make something out of nothing," writes Taback, who wryly slips himself into his story by depicting Joseph creating a dummy for the book that readers are holding. Still, it's the bustling mixed-media artwork, highlighted by the strategically placed die-cuts, that steals the show. Taback works into his folk art a menagerie of wide-eyed animals witnessing the overcoat's transformation, miniature photographs superimposed on paintings and some clever asides reproduced in small print (a wall hanging declares, "Better to have an ugly patch than a beautiful hole"; a newspaper headline announces, "Fiddler on Roof Falls off Roof"). With its effective repetition and an abundance of visual humor, this is tailor-made for reading aloud. All ages. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc

Use this text to tie into a unit on recycling and have students write paragraphs about the original use of the item and the new use of the item.
Use this text to tie into recycled art projects.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Caldecott Celebration (Genre: Picture Books)

Bibliographic Data
Author: Leonard Marcus
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 1998
ISBN: 978-0802786562

Plot Summary
This book highlights the backgrounds and back stories of six Caldecott award winning illustrators. The books chosen represent a decade of Caldecott award winners and exemplify some trait or aspect of the winning concepts within that decade. Marcus explores the reasoning behind the illustration, artistic types, and historical information while weaving an interesting story that explains how the book came to be.

Critical Analysis
This text would certainly be appropriate for elementary and middle school aged students to use as a resource text in an author or illustrator study. Written in an informal manner, the text identifies anecdotes that may or may not appear in basic character information available on book jackets and the like. However, I found that the book lacked a form of description or formula in characterizing each illustrator. Informational tidbits regarding specific illustrative techniques were described in detail for one individual and missing from others. All in all, I would recommend this text for classroom use and for individual pleasure reading.

Review Excerpts
Publishers Weekly
Filled with witty anecdotes and pithy observations, Marcus's (Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom) approach to examining the works of six Caldecott Medalists will be of as much interest to adults as to picture book readers. He has chosen one book from each decade, "so that viewed together, the six offer an informal cross section through time of the American picture book": Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings, Marcia Brown's Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, William Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Chris Van Allsburg's Jumanji and David Wiesner's Tuesday. With a generous sprinkling of the artists' own words and sometimes those of his or her editor, Marcus chronicles the inspiration behind these works, the creative process, the artists' reactions to winning the prestigious award and its effect on their careers. He fills the volume with the kinds of details children relish: McCloskey once shared his Greenwich Village digs with 16 ducks and Steig does black-and-white drawings first, then fills in each color one by one throughout the book. Encouraging readers to see each picture book through the artist's eyes, Marcus shows Brown's compositional studies, explains how Van Allsburg chose from which perspective to view the coiled python in the living room and how Sendak decided "that the illustrations leading up to the rumpus would get larger and larger, as Max's emotions pushed out the words." He traces the evolution of the illustrations for Tuesday from Wiesner's first quick sketches, when the idea occurred to him on a jet plane. With Marcus's sure hand guiding this tour, readers will find cause for celebration. All ages.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Excellent for use as a reference text in an illustrator’s study. Use one illustrator who was nominated for multiple Caldecott awards and received Caldecott Honor Book in preceding or following years from the Caldecott winner and compare the artistic techniques developing a Venn diagram.